MPS students reflect on COVID challenges during virtual MLK event

The coronavirus pandemic didn't stop Milwaukee Public Schools from honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s legacy Sunday, Jan. 17 as part of Milwaukee's 37th annual MLK Birthday Celebration. This year though, the event was virtual.

Through music, art and spoken word, K-12 students shared their interpretation and appreciation of MLK's work.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"We can’t only focus on the pain, and loss and the sorrows," said Zora Penager Davidson. "Martin Luther King taught us to dream for a better reality."

The theme for 2021 was "Keep Moving Forward," from one of Dr. King’s most well-known quotes. 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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"If you can’t fly, then run," said Janiya Williams. "If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl, but by all means, keep moving. Keep moving forward."

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said that message is more relevant and important now than ever. 

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

"Given what we have gone through as a community, as a state and as a nation over the last year in the fight for racial justice," said Mayor Barrett.

For the first time in 37 years, the event, usually held at the Marcus Performing Arts Center had to be moved online amid the pandemic. 

Winners of the speech-writing contest delivered their presentations from home, reflecting on the challenges they’ve faced over the past year, and the ways the civil rights champion has inspired them to keep going.  

"March 11, 2020 was the last day I was in a physical classroom," said Kayle Phillips. "Even now, our classes are virtual, and I must meet my peers and teachers through a screen."

"Once, my cousin told me my skin was too dark to be a Power Ranger," said Niles Janzen. "It hurt me inside, like a gunshot to my heart, and I felt the same way when another black person killed, George Floyd crying out loud."

"Frustration, isolation and anger must be transformed into motivation, inspiration and joy," said Phillips. "If Dr. King was still alive, he most likely would be in the streets with a mask on, motivating people. The question is, are you ready to fly?"

These students issued a call to follow in Dr. King's footsteps, no matter how bumpy the ride gets.